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Designing Futures

May 07, 2019

Setting the scene

Artists, creatives and future thinkers across industries came together to collectively navigate the socially and ethically complex web emerging from globally disruptive technologies. 

The Australia Council’s Designing Futures event in June 2018 brought together participants from a variety of industries including arts, science, medicine, business, education, technology and law.  

Working in interdisciplinary teams, participants used a design thinking process to explore how change and disruption might be navigated, and what role the arts and artists could play in possible futures. 

Designer, strategist and researcher, Tristan Schultz guided the participants in an interactive design session to: 

  • articulate present issues and challenges  
  • explore the impact of the far past 
  • generate multiple future scenarios, or ‘design fictions. 

‘We mapped pasts that have brought-forth presents, and are gathering as futures. We then mapped redirective future opportunities and identified the beginnings of future scenarios; design fictions.’

Participants constructed visual maps as a record of their thinking and the future scenarios imagined. 

‘Tracking patterns of information and knowledge production in visual and relational ways has always been an Indigenous Knowledge process.’  

– Tristan Schultz 

The maps appearing on this page have been prepared and visually designed by Tristan Schultz of Relative Creative. They are created from those developed by participants on the Designing Futures Day held in the Darling Quarter, Sydney on June 22, 2018.

Group 1

‘The arts reminding people, with and without technology, what it means to be human.’

‘Our journey took us from an acknowledgement in the past of what the human being intrinsically is versus extrinsically. For us, this is all about the communication of personal stories and expression of self, faith, religion, innovation, and song.

When we track this through, we see more diversity and pluralism along with a lot more fear in the face of technology.

With the exponential rate of change; more data from more technology, for example, we can see a positive influence of empowerment to the individual. Peoples’ expressions can be noticed more and more.

However, we started to really focus on the heightening anxiety coming from things like the dialectic between fake news on one hand and media perpetuating myths of objective truth on the other. We see false promises, data as a new faith, a loss of meaning; a real existential crisis hurtling towards us.

Heading into this clash we have a series of future threats, a real debate around ethics and governance and how we make a way forward. Of course we found it very easy to fall into catastrophising which we are not going to go into any more now.

What we decided to focus on was the role of arts in humans as reminding us we are connected social beings. We know this is true from the past, we know this to be true in the present, so through the meshing of all different parts of humanity we believe this will be true for the future as well.

For us, the role of the arts is to interrogate the ‘how’ we keep people attached to what it is to be human. This is very important; that the ‘how’ involves creativity. Through this lens, and looking at the role of the arts as story, identity and movement, we could see the pivotal part of the role of creatives tomorrow.’

Group 2

‘Creatives are critical because they make us think differently about how we approach a new order.  

‘First we looked at all of our assets and realised that there was a really interesting group of people who came from a whole range of different angles. But we very quickly came to the idea that ‘ecology’ was at the heart of what we were all about.

We realised that we had to go back to looking at our past and three things kept coming up: tribes, technology and conflict. At one point they all came together in that the conflict between tribes and within tribes and between tribes and their ecologies is what has gotten us into trouble. That is, for us… the key thread that connected all of it.

We had a really ripe discussion around what all of that looked like in the present. We realised that the status quo isn’t acceptable and that it was looking pretty bleak. We started discussing annihilation, new wars, the breakdown of society and community.

[We had] a robust discussion around tribes and community both as a positive and a negative in terms of what is strong and important in terms of our collectiveness.

We also looked at how technology is both positive and negative.

For us it was very much wanting to protect ecology and diversity. We recognise that the diversity the internet brings is very critical.

We then reached a discussion that took us to this ‘annihilation’ critical space where we could see these narratives arriving; futures arriving, futures that we couldn’t look away from; around the displacement of people, climate change, sea levels and waste.

We looked at responsibility when you purchase something…the longer picture in terms of where that product has come from and what our responsibility is and the real value when you purchase something.

So what do we do with waste? How do we bring that into a strong ecology? These were big questions for us. So the future was pretty red and horrible.

A discussion continued around the role of government, with various views settling on the proposition that there needed to be some sort of body or system that helped regulate all these mounting issues.’

Group 3

The creative community can generate empathyprepare the world for an equitable sharing economy, and create sustainable cyborgs. 

‘Our table definitely wanted to focus on the positive side so here is our positive spin!  

We know we’re here in the present and for us the goal is to get to a place where we have a positive evolution of humans and machines together to allow the organic growth of earth to survive.  

That was our goal and obviously there are paths to destruction, but we wanted to get there 

As we were planning this out we realised the biggest problem to get to this utopian dream would be inequity around the world so you don’t want the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ divide increasing.  

Luckily when we rolled the [‘models of impact’ design fiction dice game] dice one of the models was the ‘one-to-one’ model. We used this model to solve the inequity which would be the barrier to us reaching our utopia 

In summary of this model, for every person that moves up and evolves, there is a person that would miss out as well and therefore require aid to alleviate the inequity this creates in their worlds.  

How do you convince the world to share? The world is very greedy and that was a big thing we kept coming back to; greed and selfishness is the barrier.’ 

Group 4

‘Arts co-ops leveraging through being technologically enmeshed with and across local urban living spheres.’ 

‘We started off talking about colonisation, exoticism and the Enlightenment. For us being in a monolithic culture, all these things are connected and problematic. They keep us in a closed sphere of thinking.

So our group explored ways where we could break out of this mode of thinking.

We talked about things like the intersection of gender, class, race and the concept of the ‘Other’.

Where we arrived at as our current problem, the clash, was the start of capitalism.

We identified the artist today (in a dystopian way) as the foot soldiers of gentrification.

Overall, it felt difficult to engage in the context of a creative practice in ways that would be able to have teeth beyond this, for these really massive issues that we’re dealing with.

So our speculative future is trying to look at ways in which we can both bring back creative practice and also whether it would work to deal with problems of sustainability and environmental change in ways that wouldn’t be a grand narrative.

Where we concluded is that it would be different communities of people and different groups that share common needs and knowledge with each other, developed from a local level.

In this they would be acknowledging the knowledge that different cultures bring, different experiences bring, in building that future.

We arrived at not just new technologies, but old technologies being useful and good towards sustainability.’

Future Yarnings

‘We are at a tipping point. We are going to have to do things differently and creatives have a lot to contribute in painting the future differently, to bringing in ideas. That seemed to be something that was common in all of the stories.’  

‘There is a resistance to the idea that artists own creativity. Many people are creative… So who is the artist? We have creatives in nursing, in health, in every field. It’s a thing about language I guess, and how we use it… Do we need the word artist? Do we need this or that? … There is a semantic thing here. The powerful thing about today (being transdisciplinary) is the neutralising of the semantics. The shifting in language as the day progressed in groups and teams and people coming together and finding a common language in which people can articulate some of these things. A big question arises here: Who has the responsibility to shift semantics? There is a tipping point. Who has responsibility for that change?’ 

‘I totally bought the cyborg – that was a good marketing presentation! We are all ambassadors for change. We can work with influencers, we can all be influencers. Creatives are in every industry. For example in hackathons the teams that started winning were the ones not full of developers but ones with vastly different experiences.’